Pietersen calls on young guns to fill breach

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The Independent Online

Kevin Pietersen is banking on England's other players to fill the gap caused by the loss of Andrew Flintoff for the rest of the summer.

The Hampshire batsman, who was in Manchester yesterday helping to promote the "Urban Cricket" initiative, was as surprised as the rest of the country by the news that Flintoff needs a second operation on his troublesome left ankle.

Pietersen heard the news when it was announced on Saturday, which will leave Flintoff on the sidelines for the next three months, ruling him out of the remainder of the Test and one-day series against Pakistan. He is also a major doubt for October's Champions Trophy in India.

"This creates an opportunity for the youngsters and creates opportunities for someone else to come in, do well and play for England," Pietersen said. "It will be a pretty big series to win without Freddie but we will be giving everything we can to beat Pakistan."

He conceded that missing Flintoff will be "a big blow, but injuries are injuries and it's just a case of wishing him well. We hope he will get himself right, to get back on that field for the Ashes, which he says he will do. He's a big influence on the dressing-room. He messes around and jokes about and he will be someone who is missed."

Alongside Pietersen in Heaton Park, near Manchester, was Pakistan's recovering fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar, who hopes to return late in the series after his own ankle injury. Shoaib bowled a few deliveries at Pietersen and the pair introduced the "Urban Cricket" game, which involves playing anywhere with a plastic bat and stumps, to local schoolchildren.

Pietersen said: "Shoaib is a lot more friendly with a soft ball, but he's still got that competitive edge, because he did chuck a couple of bounces my way - at least he didn't hit me."

Kabir Ali, meanwhile, has pleaded with the England selectors not to banish him to the international wilderness after his limited-overs experience. The Worcestershire bowler was included in the England side for the final two games of the disastrous one-day series with Sri Lanka and conceded 149 runs in 16 overs.

"I was disappointed with how it went with England - I would have liked to have done more," Kabir, 25, said. "I played two games when we were 3-0 down and [Sanath] Jayasuriya was seeing it like a football. I came back to Worcestershire thinking, 'I have no confidence, nothing at all'.

"It showed me just what a step up it is to that level. When players like Jayasuriya get going, it is quite hard to stop them. It's always nerve-wracking to play for England at any level but those were days when nothing went right.

"I have never known my confidence to be like that. Normally I am the kind of guy who doesn't let anything bother them. I want the ball and will go have a bowl and try to get wickets.

"I soon realised it was just one of those games. A few players went for runs and I was just one of them. I've gradually got my confidence back. I still feel I can do a job for England. When I played in my one Test match to date I felt I did well and got five wickets.

"Apart from the last two games, I feel I have done well for England. I would be very disappointed if they overlooked me just because of what has happened in the last few games."